Learning in Collaborative Age

The capitalist era enshrined a model of teaching designed to prepare students to be skilled industrial workers. The classroom was transformed into a microcosm of the factory. Students were thought of as analogous to machines. They were conditioned to follow commands, learn by repetition, and perform efficiently. The teacher was akin to a factory foreman, handing out standardized assignments that required set answers in a given time frame. Learning was compartmentalized into isolated silos. Education was supposed to be useful and pragmatic. The “why” of things was less discussed than the “how” of things. The goal was to turn out productive employees.

The One-Room Schoolhouse with Two Billion Students

The transition from the capitalist era to the Collaborative Age is altering the pedagogy of the classroom. The authoritarian, top-down model of instruction is beginning to give way to a more collaborative learning experience. Teachers are shifting from lecturers to facilitators. Imparting knowledge is becoming less important than creating critical-learning skills. Students are encouraged to think more holistically. A premium is placed on inquiry over memorization.

In the traditional industrial classroom, questioning the authority of the teacher is strictly forbidden and sharing information and ideas among students is labeled cheating. Children quickly learn that knowledge is power, and a valuable resource one acquires to secure an advantage over others upon graduation in a fiercely competitive marketplace.

In the Collaborative Age, students will come to think of knowledge as a shared experience among a community of peers. Students learn together as a cohort in a shared-knowledge community. The teacher acts as a guide, setting up inquiries and allowing students to work in small-group environments. The goal is to stimulate collaborative creativity, the kind young people experience when engaged in many of the social spaces of the Internet. The shift from hierarchical power, lodged in the hands of the teacher, to lateral power, established across a learning community, is tantamount to a revolution in pedagogy.

While the conventional classroom treated knowledge as objective, isolated facts, in the collaborative classroom, knowledge is regarded as the collective meanings we attach to our experiences. Students are encouraged to tear down the walls that separate academic disciplines and to think in a more integrated fashion. Interdisciplinary and multicultural studies prepare students to become comfortable entertaining different perspectives and more adept at searching out synergies between phenomena.

The idea of learning as an autonomous private experience and the notion of knowledge as an acquisition to be treated as a form of exclusive property made sense in a capitalist environment that defined human behavior in similar terms. In the Collaborative Age, learning is regarded as a crowdsourcing process and knowledge is treated as a publically shared good, available to all, mirroring the emerging definition of human behavior as deeply social and interactive in nature. The shift from a more authoritarian style of learning to a more lateral learning environment better prepares today’s students to work, live, and flourish in tomorrow’s collaborative economy.

The new collaborative pedagogy is being applied and practiced in schools and communities around the world. The educational models are designed to free students from the private space of the traditional enclosed classroom and allow them to learn in multiple open Commons, in virtual space, the public square, and in the biosphere.



  • Chapter Seven – MOOCs and a Zero Marginal Cost Education
  • The Zero Marginal Cost Society
  • The Internet of Things, the Collaborative Commons, and the Eclipse of Capitalism
  • Jeremy Rifkin


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